Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 31

To be read: March 8, July 8, November 8

There should be chosen from the brotherhood a Cellarer of the monastery.  He is to be a wise man, of settled habits, temperate and frugal, not conceited, irritable, resentful, sluggish, or wasteful. 2He must fear God, and be as a father to the whole brotherhood. 3He is to have the charge of everything, 4but do nothing without the command of the Abbot. 5He is to do what he has been ordered to do, 6and not annoy the brothers. 7If a brother should make an unreasonable request for anything, let him not reject the brother with a cold refusal, but politely and humbly refuse the one making the improper request. 8Let him be watchful of his own soul, always mindful of the saying of the Apostle: “For those who have ministered well, shall gain a good standing for themselves”(1 Tm 3:13). 9Let him provide for the sick, the children, the guests, and the poor, with all care, knowing that, without doubt, he will have to give an account of all these things on judgment day. 10He must regard all the vessels and goods of the monastery as if they were sacred vessels of the altar, 11and let him neglect nothing. 12He is not to give way to avarice, nor be wasteful and a squanderer of the goods of the monastery; but let him do all things in due measure and according to the bidding of his Abbot. 13Above all things, let him be humble. If he does not have the things requested, let him answer with a kind word, 14for it is written: “A good word is better than the best gift”(Sir 18:17). 15He should take care of everything that the Abbot has entrusted to him, and not presume to do what the Abbot has forbidden. 16Let him give the brothers their apportioned allowance of food without pride or delay, so that they may not be scandalized, for he must remember what the Scripture says the person deserves who scandalizes one of these little ones: “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea”(Mt 18:6). 17If the community is large, let assistants be given him, that, with their help, he may calmly fulfill the office entrusted to him. 18Let the things that are to be given be distributed, and the things requested be asked for at the proper times, 19so that nobody may be disturbed or grieved in the house of God. 

The cellarer is the person who is responsible for the provisioning of food and drink and other necessities in the community.  The role of the cellarer is basically to run the physical side of the monastery so that the abbot can be free to attend to the spiritual wellbeing of the community.  There is not a comparable person in the lives of those of us living outside the confines of the monastic enclosure, however, the qualities that the abbot would look for in the cellarer are qualities for which all Christians should strive.  For example, one of the challenges for any cellarer is to maintain gentleness and charity at all times with each of the brothers, whether he be pleasant or ornery.  And not only must he care for the brothers this way, St. Benedict also tells him to have this same care for the sick, for children, for guests, and for the poor.  This chapter speaks to us of a whole theology of how to relate to one another in community.  

Humility seems to be particularly important for this office, for Benedict says that “Above all things, let him be humble…”  The cellarer should give things to the brothers without any arrogance or delay, and it would surely be a test of humility and charity for a cellarer if some brothers ask for things they realistically do not need, or they ask at an inappropriate time, thus creating an inconvenience for the cellarer.  Benedict is striving to cast the role of the cellarer as “one who serves” in the model of Christ Himself, Who said, “I am among you as the one who serves” (cf. Mark 10:45).  But Benedict recognizes that this type of service requires grace, saying, “He must fear God”.  As St. Peter declares, “Those who serve, let them serve with the strength given by God” (1 Peter 4:11).  

The spiritual qualities required of the cellarer might best be reflected in St. Paul’s epistle to Rome.  He said, “I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think…[and to] live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited” (12:3,16).  And to the Philippians Paul wrote, “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves” (2:3).  This is the type of behavior that should be practiced by all who confess Christ.

Let us seek to serve one another as Christ has given us the example, “for the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

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